Charmaine Cunningham was born and raised in Goldsworth Park and attended Beaufort primary school and then Woking High. As a child she spent a lot of time in Knaphill, visiting her grandparents. She remembers, ‘I always looked forward to going to the workman’s club with my papa and used to see my friend Leah there and have so much fun. We would always be given some pocket money and would go over to Sarwell’s to buy some penny sweets and I could never walk past Dees without going in. It was like Aladdin’s cave for a child.’ Charmaine moved to Knaphill to be closer to her family after her first son was born 11 years ago.
‘When I was at school I wanted to be a holiday rep and all the jobs I have had, have always been focused on customer service from working in pubs to being a florist, so I have always worked in jobs that put me in front of people.’ Charmaine told The Knaphillian.
Many of us reading this will find Charmaine’s story upsetting and hard to read but Charmaine feels her experiences should be shared as they may resonate with some of us too.
Charmaine says she was always a “big girl” when she was young. ‘For years I believed this was who and how I was meant to be. Was I happy? I look happy in old photos, but hidden under it all was layers of different thoughts and feelings. I felt disgusting, hideous, repulsive and many other feelings, which led to having no self-esteem or self-worth.
She continues, ‘By the time I had my first child, I gained more weight and was sinking further into my dark thoughts. And thus begun the yo-yo dieting; down a bit, up a bit and so on.
‘I felt my destiny was to be this person I had become and I carried the huge burden of these negative feelings. Do I have many photos with my son growing up? NO and the guilt eats at me because I was too ashamed of myself. Then I had my second child, and I reached the biggest I had ever been and once I came out of hospital, the realisation of how I was really sunk in. NEW BABY HAPPY TIMES? Not for me I was being swallowed up by a black hole of despair.’
Charmaine’s story would not have been dissimilar to that of any other young mother raising a family and struggling with her weight and low self-esteem were it not for one major life-changing episode that has transformed her world for the better and forever.
Charmaine continues, ‘While I was pregnant for the second time, my best friend had joined Slimming World and was doing amazingly well. I had thought about joining the group too but pushed it aside, thinking it won’t work for me as I’m a fussy eater… it would be like everything else I’ve tried; I’ll fail because I’M a failure… I’ve got far to much [weight] to lose. I stuck to this reasoning but my friend never gave up asking, so one day I plucked up the courage and took the most nerve-racking step to walk through the doors of St John’s primary school Slimming World group.
‘I sat and heard the plan and it sounded too good to be true. Being a fussy eater, I had assumed it would be too restricting but “free foods” are unlimited and there is so much choice, I soon found out I would never feel hungry and nothing is banned.
‘The group were so lovely and supportive while I sat through my first experience of “image therapy”. Back at home ready to start, I was still doubting myself and Slimming World but stuck to the plan. The following week, with butterflies in my tummy I went for my first weigh-in and thought surely I can’t have lost weight eating all that free food last week and still enjoying a little bit of chocolate and a packet of crisps. I was warmly welcomed onto the scales and a voice said “congratulations you’ve lost 3lb”. I gave myself a “woohoo” and took a seat in group because I was told it’s where “the magic happens”. My confidence grew week-by-week and I made many more friends along the way.
Since those darker days, Charmaine has lost five and half stone, and enjoys a much healthier lifestyle. ‘So now, the smile on my face has no pain and I believe I have self-worth. Slimming World literally changed my world and I live a healthier life and enjoy more food choices than I ever dreamed of.’
Once Charmaine was reaping so many benefits herself, she was determined that others should find the same peace and self-esteem that she had found, so she decided to train as a consultant so she could teach others. ‘To be considered for the role you have to have been a member of Slimming World so you understand and love the plan but also understand what it’s like to be a member so you can empathise with each member and how they feel because you’ve been there yourself.’ Charmaine told us.
‘Once selected to become a consultant, you are invited for the initial training to Derbyshire to Slimming World’s head office (nicknamed the sparkly castle!). Our training is then ongoing with a monthly team meeting.
‘My job now is a Slimming World consultant and I re-launched the St John’s primary school group in April last year. I now have so many great moments with my members, enjoying their highs and successes, from small things that made them feel good about themselves that week, to seeing them reach their dream goal. Being there to support them through difficult times and making sure they are supported by me and other members of our groups, who are fantastic at supporting each other, is so rewarding. I am so proud of the awards we have achieved – especially our newest “Gold Group” award, and for being the first within our team to achieve such a fantastic award. I am also excited to be re-launching a second group on the 29th May at Bisley Church of England school.
‘None of this of course, would have been possible without the members who make group a warm friendly safe place to be. I feel like I’m just the person who sets everything up and stands at the front as members learn so much from each other and the support and motivation that shines through every group night is magical.
‘My ultimate dream is to help as many people as possible to not struggle alone feeling unhappy about themselves and to encourage a healthier way of living. Being in group brings so much joy to my life. Sometimes there are tears if a member is having a really tough time, but we always end up having a giggle.
‘If you’ve ever felt like I did, join your local group. I promise you’ll never look back.’ Charmaine concludes.
You can contact Charmaine on 07791 744 502
Charmaine’s Slimming World groups are: St John’s primary school on Thursdays at 5.30pm and 7.30pm. And her re-launched Slimming World group starts on Wednesday 29th May 2019 at Bisley Church of England primary school is on Wednesdays at 7.30pm.